Virgin Green Fund, the investment firm of Richard Branson, has recently been looking to invest $220 million in companies that use natural resources efficiently or develop renewable energy. Called “green tech grown up,” this strategy is a departure from usual early venture capital investments in new start-ups. As The New York Times reports, Branson looks to finance green tech companies that are past the cash-flush of their early years. Instead, Virgin Green Fund wants to nurture those companies that need extra time, money and attention.
It used to be common practice for clean tech start-ups to raise money through project finance loans or tax equity. This allowed banks or corporations to receive tax credits. But these sources of money have dried up, causing a lot of start-ups to sell their technology to bigger companies. Consequently, new investors have been discouraged from reinvesting in other start ups. \n
To keep green companies alive, Richard Branson via his Virgin Green Fund has switched strategies and is now considering older companies that have withstood the early financial storm. Branson is considering 3,700 companies and has already invested in 10, putting about $100 million into the $220 million fund. These are companies already bringing in millions in capital, but need that extra push to become $100 million companies.\n
The New York Times cites the example of Quench, a start-up water filtration company that rents systems to offices that clean water from the tap. This is eco-friendly because it eliminates the carbon footprint of water transport. It also removes the worry of plastic contamination of water bottles. Quench has yearly revenue of $10 million, and much of that was spent on sales. And so, the Virgin Green Fund has invested $13 million in this company.\n
Toby Coppel is a Virgin partner and a former chief strategy officer at Yahoo. As he told The New York Times, “Easily, half their business could come from e-commerce. …That’s transformational.”\n
The Virgin Green Fund is also focused on investing in companies that cross between energy and information technology. It is the biggest investor in a company called GreenRoad. This company makes a vehicle device that gives real-time safety feedback and driver coaching. It saves fuel because drivers slam on their breaks less often. \n
Hopes are that investments such as these will prove more profitable in the long run. Michael Kanellos is editor in chief at Greentech Media, a research and publishing firm. As he told The New York Times, “Silicon Valley, in the green world, is mostly going to act as a farm team. They’re going to find great ideas in the lab, but the really successful thing will be selling it to General Electric. There’s not going to be many independent companies becoming the next Google.”
Katherine Butler is a TV writer who writes for the Mother Nature Network.